father and son sit and talk on basketball courtShare on Pinterest

If you read headlines, it would seem that most parenting styles are ones to avoid. You don’t want to be a helicopter parent. Or a lawnmower parent. But really, most of us are just trying to be good parents, right? So what’s the style for that?

Everyone has their opinion. Yet, studies seem to agree that an authoritative style tends to work best for children. Let’s look at what authoritative parenting involves, and how it differs from other parenting styles.

Authoritative parenting is one of four parenting styles based on the research and work of developmental psychologist Diana Baumrind:

These styles are defined by how parents:

  • express love
  • deal with their child’s needs and desires
  • exercise their authority over their children

In the case of authoritative parenting, there’s a healthy balance between the two.

Authoritative parents give their children a lot of support and love. They are flexible and welcome open communication, but discipline isn’t put on the back burner.

They set clear guidelines and expect their kids to behave and listen to house rules. At the same time, they’re not overly strict or unreasonable.

Compared to other parenting styles, authoritative parenting appears to have the most positive effect on children.

Permissive parenting shares some similarities with authoritative parenting. These parents also nurture and have a strong attachment to their children. The difference is that permissive parents don’t set clear rules. They aren’t consistent with discipline. There’s a lot of leniency, and their children often test limits.

Authoritarian parents take a “no-nonsense” approach. These parents also set and enforce rules like authoritative parents. But they’re more strict, demanding, and critical. Also, they can have unreasonable expectations for their kids.

Uninvolved parenting is the complete opposite of authoritative parenting. With this style, parents are completely disengaged from their kids. There are no expectations, responsiveness, or rules. And they lack any type of emotional attachment.

To be clear, authoritative parenting isn’t the same across the board. Every kid is different. So even in the same household, it can look different based on the child.

Let’s say you have a toddler that doesn’t want to eat their dinner. A permissive parent might respond by making a different meal for the child. An authoritarian parent might respond by demanding that they sit at the table until their plate is clean. An authoritative parent might use this opportunity to discuss their refusal but explain that now is the time to eat.

Authoritative parents are flexible, so they might not require a clean plate. But they might expect the child to eat what is being served now if they are hungry, with the understanding that different food won’t be available until the next meal or snack time. They’ll enforce this, even if the child whines or throws tantrums.

Here’s another example. An older child may want to play outside before finishing their chores. A permissive parent may allow the child to skip chores in favor of an early playtime. Meanwhile, an authoritarian parent, may yell, become upset, or threaten punishment if the child doesn’t finish their chores.

An authoritative parent takes a different approach. They don’t give in or react negatively. They stay calm, understanding why the child wants to play instead of doing chores. Their expectations for the child don’t waver, though.

The child still needs to finish their chores before playtime. But because these parents want their kids to learn responsibility, they might offer tips to help them finish faster. This way, they can get to playtime sooner.

Authoritative parenting changes from family to family, and even from child to child. Remember, this parenting style is about striking a healthy balance. These parents are nurturers, sensitive, and supportive, yet firm.

The main benefit is that children may be more likely to develop a strong emotional bond to their parents. They also tend to be happier. Other benefits include:

Secure attachment

Authoritative parents are nurturers and listeners. They create a space where a child feels safe and secure. This type of relationship is known as secure attachment.

According to a small 2012 study evaluating how parenting styles affect intimate relationships, secure attachment results in healthier relationships. These children also have higher self-esteem, more self-confidence, and are friendlier.

Better coping skills

Everyone deals with anger, frustration, and sadness at some point. Yet, we also learn how to deal with these emotions to control our behavior and feelings.

Emotional regulation is something that’s learned. According to additional research, children of authoritative parents have stronger emotional regulatory skills.

This is likely due to these parents encouraging, but also guiding, their children to problem-solve when stressful situations arise. They teach at an early age how to cope rather than removing obstacles for them. And because of their ability to self-regulate and cope, these children tend to be better problem solvers.

Higher academic performance

Authoritative parents are invested in and supportive of their child’s schooling. These parents keep a close eye on their child’s grades and homework.

When it’s possible they’re present at school events and meetings. Their expectations for home and in school are consistent but reasonable and age-appropriate.

One 2015 study of 290 people found that college grade point averages were moderately higher in those with “high authoritative” parents than with “low authoritative” parents.

Good behavior

Authoritative parents aren’t strict disciplinarians like authoritarian parents. But they do set boundaries for their children and they will provide appropriate consequences for not following rules.

As a result, their children tend to be more cooperative and may exhibit better behavior than children raised by permissive or authoritarian parents.

Open-minded

These parents are adaptable and willing to provide explanations. They help their children understand the reasoning behind certain rules.

This type of openness and discussion helps their child develop good communication and social skills. They may also become more flexible and open-minded with others.

Many studies on authoritative parenting conclude that it’s likely the most effective method with the best outcome. However, it falls in the middle of authoritarian and permissive parenting. So it’s possible to slide over to one of these styles.

A parent may continue to support and nurture their child but become more lenient with rules, expectations, and requirements over time. Rather than staying consistent, they may give in when their child whines or throws tantrums.

Or, a parent may become more rigid and inflexible with rules and decisions. They could show less concern for their child’s feelings on certain matters. Instead of discussing they dictate.

A switch to either side can impact a child. Permissive parenting can lead to more rebelliousness and poor impulse control. Authoritarian parenting can lead to a higher risk of low self-esteem, mental health issues, and poor social skills.

To avoid a shift, here are different ways to use authoritative parenting:

  • Set clear limits, reasonable expectations, and boundaries.
  • Be consistent when enforcing reasonable consequences.
  • Listen to your child’s perspective on matters.
  • Offer explanations to help your child understand rules or limitations.
  • Encourage independence.
  • Be flexible and adaptable.
  • Respect your child as a person.
  • Don’t always come to the rescue, but rather allow them to fix problems.

Raising children who are responsible, happy, and cooperative involves support and nurturing. There must also be consequences for negative behavior. Authoritative parenting might not be a perfect parenting style, but it’s a parenting style that many experts believe in.